Canada’s image of itself shaken by protests over COVID-19 vaccination mandates

A police vehicle blocks a downtown street to prevent trucks from joining a blockade of COVID-19 mandate protesters near Parliament in Ottawa on February 15, 2022. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

André Landry said he was not worried about a threat of police repression against truckers whose platforms blocked the streets of the Canadian capital, turning the stately government district into a noisy protest strip and a neighborhood party.

Landry sat in the cabin of his big pickup truck, which was draped in a Canadian flag and parked in front of the stately neo-Gothic Parliament building in Ottawa.

“We didn’t do anything wrong,” Landry, 49, said Wednesday. “The police are our friends. And we all believe in freedom.

Truckers and other protesters who essentially shut down part of Ottawa for nearly three weeks to protest COVID-19 mandates and restrictions responded defiantly as authorities appeared poised to evict hundreds of vehicles illegally parked. Truckers repeatedly honked their horns to flatly dismiss police warnings.

“You must leave this area now,” demanded Ottawa police in leaflets distributed on Wellington Street, the main thoroughfare leading to Parliament. “Anyone who blocks streets or helps other people to block [of] streets, commit a crime [offense] and you could be arrested. You must immediately stop all illegal activity or you will face charges.”

Protesters made a point of crumpling up notices and tossing them in the trash, sometimes as the news cameras rolled.

“We’re not going anywhere,” said Tyler Armstrong, 26, whose rig was parked near Landry on Wellington Street. “Not worried at all.”

The protest began as a rejection of a Canadian government requirement that cross-border truckers be vaccinated. But protests in the capital and at Canada-US border crossings have spurred a global copycat movement against all pandemic restrictions and turned into a protest against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government.

The daily spectacle along Wellington Street also appears to have struck the collective psyche of Canada, a country not generally known for its deadly ideological brawls and displays of political partisanship.

The seculars tradition of Canadians who make beautiful appears to have gone out the window as protesters vent their anger, often in foul language, at Trudeau, who is routinely denounced as a dictator in all but name. The posters portray Trudeau as the illegitimate son of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, among other characterizations.

Residents and others seem genuinely amazed that a descent to this level of discourse — complete with a raucous blockade dubbed a “carnival of chaos” by one lawmaker — could have happened in Canada. They wonder when and how the daily disturbances in the streets will end.

“Does anyone know what’s going on again?” columnist Kelly Egan wrote in the Ottawa Sun on Tuesday. “Monday certainly had the vibe of the city, the province, maybe the country, going wildly in all directions.”

Trudeau invoked the Federal Emergencies Act on Monday — a law never used before — in an effort to give authorities additional legal tools to evict truckers and other blockers. The city and province of Ontario had previously declared emergencies, and the courts had increased fines for illegal parking and honking, a protest tactic by truckers. But all had little effect on the cinematic spectacle along a half-mile stretch of Wellington Street.

The effect of what authorities call “the occupation” has been seen by some as something similar to what many in the United States felt when rioters stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 – although not deadly or as violent. Some outraged Canadians see a sort of cross-border metastasis of crude American-style politics — a notion amplified when conservatives like Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Fox News host Tucker Carlson praise protesters .

Under the Emergencies Act, Canada has banned foreigners from traveling to the country to take part in convoy protests. Authorities are also requiring crowdfunding sites to register with a federal financial watchdog agency if the platforms are linked to the convoy, a move intended to stem financial aid from Canada and the United States.

Many participants in the protests reject the idea that the protest in Canada is anything more than a local phenomenon, and not some kind of counterfeit of right-wing American politics.

“This is about Canada, about Canadians,” said Sharon Clark, 70, a retiree from outside Ottawa who said she protested as a youth at 1960s UC Berkeley and surrendered Wednesday on Wellington Street in support of protesters. “Canadians have a long fuse. But at the end of this wick is a cannonball.

Many protesters traveled to Ottawa from rural and western parts of the country where Trudeau’s Liberal Party is not popular.

Trudeau denounced the protesters as a “marginal minority” and refused to meet with them.

Along with the disruption on the streets, the protests have taken a heavy financial toll on businesses in the city center, where many shops are closed and the streets are largely deserted except for protesters and police.

Last weekend, residents of a neighborhood plagued by protests – exposed to weeks of honking, diesel emissions and what many call harassment – ​​staged their own blockade and counter-protest to block vehicles seeking to join the convoy.

“These people have suffered like hell,” Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson told CTV Canada.

Ottawa police have come under heavy fire for allowing truckers to park outside Parliament Buildings weeks ago and stay there. Police have seen protesters regularly return jerry cans full of diesel to blocking vehicles, allowing protesters to spend the night in heated vehicles despite sub-zero temperatures.

the Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly resigned Tuesday in what was widely seen as the result of his missing the convoy challenge – even as authorities were able to break through similar, albeit smaller, blockades along the Canada-US border without violence or mass arrests. Additional members of the Provincial and Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been deployed to assist Ottawa Police, and officials have set up a joint command centre.

How law enforcement will proceed to end the blockade remains unknown. Authorities estimate there are around 150 protesters present each night and around 360 vehicles parked downtown.

Officials hope many protesters will leave voluntarily, but they have made it clear that police will act before this weekend – when hundreds of revelers are expected to join the blockade, amid barbecues, musical presentations by DJs and other live attractions. Wellington Street has seen loud parties every weekend since the protests began.

But Parliament Hill could soon be declared a “no-go” zone, Marco Mendicino, Canada’s Public Safety Minister, told reporters on Tuesday, and those who refuse to leave could face fines and jail time.

“Nobody wants to see another weekend like the last three on Wellington Street,” Mendicino said. “I am assured from my discussions with the police that they fully appreciate this. We are now depending on them to do the job.”

Special Envoy Denis Calnan in Toronto contributed to this report.

Police officers walk past large trucks covered in protest signs

Police officers patrol Wellington Street in Ottawa as truckers continue their protest against COVID-19 warrants on February 16, 2022. (ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images)

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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